France, please

The hedonistic Cote D’Azur seeks to increase tourism and business ties with Israel.

THE SOUTHERN coast of France, as seen from Nice (photo credit: LAURA KELLY)
THE SOUTHERN coast of France, as seen from Nice
(photo credit: LAURA KELLY)
One, the perfect croissant will make a slight crackle when ripped in half. Two, a glass of wine is not only acceptable at lunch, its necessary.
Three, the French are fabulous, period.
Keep these three things in mind if you take advantage of Sun D’or’s summer flights from Tel Aviv to Nice, leaving on Thursdays and returning Sundays – and priced at $379 round-trip – if you are looking for a long weekend. Sun D’or is a subset of El Al airlines, and frequently opens up holiday destination flights during the spring and summer.
The South of France is full of treasures that include ample beaches, varied cuisine, celebrity appeal, culture and history. From one’s arrival in Nice, the coastal area – called the Cote D’Azur – offers a wide variety of activities accommodating the spend-friendly and even the thrifty.
Roughly 30 kilometers from Nice, Cannes is most known for its annual film festival – a mega-event that sees the humble city’s population boom from 75,000 to 200,000. The festival, which takes place in May, is invite-only. Tickets are reserved for the crème of the Hollywood crop and their deep-pocketed sponsors.
The steps of the Palais de Congress, the convention center which houses the main screen of the festival, has seen the famous and infamous traipse its red carpet.
But Cannes has another side, a charming old city that preserves the classic French style, a beautiful bay that is perfect for swimming, kayaking or boating, and even a unique island inhabited by vintner monks, open to the public for a few hours during the day but also offering the possibility for silent meditation retreats.
The city began as a small fishing village, as did most of the towns along the Cote D’Azur. The arrival of French aristocrats in the 19th century transformed the area into a prime destination for summer holidays.
“Cannes is a very lovely place.
You look at all of this treasure, and we think there is a lot of things here to make the destination more and more attractive,” says Deputy Mayor Frank Chikli. “There are two parts of tourism in Cannes: business tourism and leisure tourism.
We think there is a lot of opportunities to develop the business tourism in Cannes.”
Chikli is a Tunisian Jew who came to France when he was 18 to attend medical school. Still a practicing radiologist, he has family in Israel and visits a few times a year. The last time, he attended a convention in Tel Aviv to increase cooperation on business tourism between the two cities.
Cannes is a city prepared for large business conferences and is the destination for the MIP (Marché International des Programmes), a global marketplace conference in the fields of entertainment, real estate, science and technology. Chikli says that at the last MIPTV, where movies and TV programs are sold to an international audience, he was surprised that Israel wasn’t represented as one of the main countries.
He points to the success of the American CIA drama Homeland, inspired by Israel’s Hatufim (“Prisoners of War”), and believes Israel has a chance to make a big impact through entertainment. And this is without mentioning the opportunities for collaboration across science and technology.
“There is a special industry in Cannes,” Chikli adds, referring to the Cannes Mandelieu Space Center, the only satellite assembler in Europe. “There are a lot of reasons for business opportunities between local industries and Israeli society.”
Chikli also boasts of the safety of the city. Due to its abundance of high-profile visitors – four years ago, it also held the G20 summit – Cannes is one city in France with the highest video surveillance.
“Because of Charlie Hebdo,’” Chikli notes, referring to January’s terrorist attacks in Paris at the offices of the satirical newspaper and a kosher supermarket, “we have soldiers in front of the synagogues, but it is also 300 meters from the police station.”
On the tourism side, Chikli says that Cannes is more than prepared to host religious Jewish families coming from Israel, and that their busiest time is during Passover. As the country with the third-largest Diaspora population, the city of Cannes boasts that many of their hotels switch to glatt kosher food for Passover. With a Jewish population in the city of around 2,000, there are two synagogues and a cultural center.
Antibe, Grasse, Frejus
For those traveling between Nice and Cannes, a short day trip or an alternate city to stay, Antibe is a lovely destination on the coast for some old-school French charm.
A prime attraction of the city is its Picasso Museum, housed in an 11th-century castle. The painter spent a summer in Antibe in 1946, and after lamenting he didn’t have a big enough space to work, the mayor offered up the Chateau de Grimaldi.
Picasso’s first idea was to paint the interior of the castle, but quickly abandoned it after environmental factors wouldn’t enable preservation of his work. The paintings inside are from his stay, which he created on a multitude of surfaces – wooden planks, painting over old artworks – as supplies were scarce at the end of World War II. A documentary photographic exhibit of the painter and his lover at the time, Francoise Gilot, is also on display, giving a rare and intimate look at Picasso’s process.
About a 30-minute inland drive from Cannes leads you to the picturesque hill village of Grasse. The main attraction is its perfume factory and museum, started in the mid- 19th century. Fragonard Perfumes was named after the 18th-century French painter, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, who was a native of the town.
It is interesting to learn the art of perfume manufacturing, which is very similar to distilling alcohol.
The gift shops sells the perfumes at factory price, so for a handmade quality product at 28 euros for 15 ml., it’s a good deal. If you visit between Monday to Friday, you’ll see the factory in motion.
From five-star hotels popular among celebrities to charming bed and breakfasts and quaint hostels, the Cote D’Azur offers French fanciful notions in its cobblestoned old cities, rolling hills, and attitude towards pleasure and enjoyment.
The writer was a guest of Sun D’or Airlines and the Cannes Municipality.